Baker’s parting shot at May aides

Published: Tuesday 4th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Norman Baker has told how Theresa May and her closest aides repeatedly set out to shut down his activities at the Home Office as he defended his decision to quit as a minister.

The Home Secretary’s special advisers scrutinised what he was up to then “tried to minimise my room for manoeuvre”, he said.

Conservative former minister Damian Green insisted that the Liberal Democrat had been the cause of tensions in the department because he tried to act as if he had the same ministerial rank as Mrs May.

But Mr Baker denied the claims and laid the blame for his departure firmly at Mrs May’s door.

“I’m afraid that the Home Secretary, who I think is a formidable woman and a very competent Home Secretary, has one great drawback, which is that she regards this a Conservative department in a Conservative government and it’s not,” he said. “It’s a Coalition department in a Coalition government and I’m afraid that mindset has rather soured things.”

He added: “Clearly, there were issues which were in my portfolio which I wanted to take forward and under normal circumstances in any other department I would have been allowed to progress and really there were obstacles put in the way sometimes.

“Her special advisers, in particular, were scrutinising what I was doing and they tried to minimise my room for manoeuvre.”

Mr Baker announced he was quitting last night, telling The Independent that working with Mrs May was like “walking through mud”.

He highlighted a drugs report that Lib Dems claimed backed the case for a review of the current law, claiming it had been “blocked numerous times” by the Tories.

Mr Baker insisted today that he had formed good working relationships with “many Conservatives” in government, including Mr Green.

“Indeed, I’ve had a couple of texts this morning from senior Conservatives saying how sorry they are I’m standing down,” he said.

But he refused to share the identities of the well wishers, saying it “wouldn’t help their career prospects”.

Mr Baker said it had been “onerous” being the only Lib Dem at the Home Office and he was “not sure” that predecessor Jeremy Browne “did manage very well” in the department.

Asked if he was leaving a mess for colleagues to clean up, he replied: “No. I think what I’m doing actually strengthens the position because I think the Home Secretary, I hope, will now think more carefully about how she engages with her coalition partners.”

He added: ” I think it is exceptional rather than symbolic as a matter of fact. I think relations across the Coalition are professional and by in large productive.

“I think the Home Office is the cutting edge of the Coalition in many ways. It’s where the difficult issues arise, immigration and Europe and so on.

“It’s not helped by the Home Secretary’s views apparently that there is a Conservative government with a few Lib Dems in it rather than a Coalition government.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg expressed regret at the loss of “one of the most effective ministers” in the Government but said he “fully” understood why he was stepping down.

“I understand and respect the reasons he has given for standing down as a minister. He was an outstanding minister, but these things happen,” he said.

“I’ll be making an announcement shortly on who will be replacing him.”

Mr Green suggested that Mr Baker had not been a team player.

The former minister told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “Norman’s problem was he came in and announced … he gave an interview to his local paper saying ‘I’m the Lib Dem home secretary’. He regarded himself as being on a par with the Home Secretary and asked for papers from other ministers, he wanted to check what everyone else was doing.

“The world doesn’t work like that. If you are a minister of state, in the end you work for the Secretary of State in that department.”

Lib Dem president Tim Farron told the programme: “I’m not here to lay into Theresa May but there is a sense within the Home Office, and it’s sensed around the rest of Government on both sides of the Coalition, that Theresa May behaves as though the Conservatives won the last election – and they didn’t.”

Ann De Vecchi, chairwoman of the Lewes Liberal Democrat constituency, said she had spoken to Mr Baker at length about his decision and got the sense that he had felt “quite relieved” that he had come to a decision.

She said: “He did not take it lightly. He had given it very careful thought and had spoken to party colleagues about it.

“They fully support him as they have always done. I think everybody understands.”

Published: Tuesday 4th November 2014 by The News Editor

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